Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Pierre Remillard’s workshop feels a bit like an old-school diner, the kind of place that covers every square inch of wall with artifacts that are almost half a century old.
Hundreds of clocks hang on the far wall, the remains of a collection given to Remillard by his mother’s companion.
The right wall showcases three old trumpets and a trombone, along with a few baseball gloves. Baseball, he explained, has always been an important part of his life.
Photos, many of fellow sailors he served with in the Navy, cover a good portion of the near wall and ceiling, though they’re interspersed with bits of poetry and letters from family and friends.
Remillard uses this space for his artwork which, of late, has been painting American flags on corrugated metal.
He has at least half a dozen finished flags in his workshop, each one lifelike, seeming to ripple and bend along the folds of the metal.
A Vietnam veteran, Remillard said he uses art as a way to process emotions and connect himself to people. After serving as a Navy frogman, he came back to the U.S. and started working as a painter but found military service had left him in a deep emotional pain.
“Your emotional side is growing these walls up so that you are protected from things that might harm you,” he said. “They disconnected me from my heart.”
Remillard tried treatment through the Department of Veterans Affairs but said that nothing made him better until he had an awakening when he was 50. After that, he decided to move back to Walla Walla and spend his time creating.
“I took my painting to an art form,” he said. “It’s therapy.”
Before he started doing flags, Remillard completed a life-sized car, which is made out of metal and faux painted to look like wood. The piece took him over a decade to finish, and he sometimes takes it to car shows, where it becomes a conversation starter.
“People come over to me, and they’re amazed that my car isn’t what it seems to be,” he said. “So then we can talk about life.”
Talking about life is something he enjoys doing, whether it’s speaking at Berney Elementary School about his experiences as a veteran, or connecting with younger veterans in Walla Walla to help them process their experiences.
When he was growing up in Walla Walla, Remillard said it was common to see World War II veterans around town. Parades would have 500 men in uniform, and the town felt connected to soldiers and the war itself.
During Vietnam, the national mood changed.
“I’m really proud of everything I did, but I don’t believe in that war we fought. And the nation didn’t either,” he said.
Now, he said, most people put thoughts of war out of their mind, which can leave veterans feeling alone.
Many of the veterans he talks to experience the same things he did — emotional disconnection, pain that won’t go away — but few are able to do anything about it. Remillard hopes that by seeking connections with others, he can help ease this burden.
It’s this desire to connect, as well as a deep feeling of patriotism, that guides his artwork. While he said he doesn’t support wars, Remillard chooses to spend his time interacting with people around him, instead of getting involved in politics or partisan arguments.
“I have opinions, but I don’t delve into things I can’t do anything about,” he said. “I think peace comes from in here.”